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Introduction To The Proceedings Of The Committee
by [?]

Appointed to manage the contributions begun at London, December 18, 1758, for clothing French prisoners of war.

The committee intrusted with the money, contributed to the relief of the subjects of France, now prisoners in the British dominions, here lay before the publick an exact account of all the sums received and expended, that the donors may judge how properly their benefactions have been applied.

Charity would lose its name, were it influenced by so mean a motive as human praise; it is, therefore, not intended to celebrate, by any particular memorial, the liberality of single persons, or distinct societies; it is sufficient, that their works praise them.

Yet he, who is far from seeking honour, may very justly obviate censure. If a good example has been set, it may lose its influence by misrepresentation; and, to free charity from reproach is itself a charitable action.

Against the relief of the French only one argument has been brought; but that one is so popular and specious, that, if it were to remain unexamined, it would, by many, be thought irrefragable. It has been urged, that charity, like other virtues, may be improperly and unseasonably exerted; that, while we are relieving Frenchmen, there remain many Englishmen unrelieved; that, while we lavish pity on our enemies, we forget the misery of our friends.

Grant this argument all it can prove, and what is the conclusion?–That to relieve the French is a good action, but that a better may be conceived. This is all the result, and this all is very little. To do the best can seldom be the lot of man: it is sufficient if, when opportunities are presented, he is ready to do good. How little virtue could be practised, if beneficence were to wait always for the most proper objects, and the noblest occasions; occasions that may never happen, and objects that may never be found.

It is far from certain, that a single Englishman will suffer by the charity to the French. New scenes of misery make new impressions; and much of the charity, which produced these donations, may be supposed to have been generated by a species of calamity never known among us before. Some imagine, that the laws have provided all necessary relief, in common cases, and remit the poor to the care of the publick; some have been deceived by fictitious misery, and are afraid of encouraging imposture; many have observed want to be the effect of vice, and consider casual alms-givers as patrons of idleness. But all these difficulties vanish in the present case: we know, that for the prisoners of war there is no legal provision; we see their distress, and are certain of its cause; we know that they are poor and naked, and poor and naked without a crime.

But it is not necessary to make any concessions. The opponents of this charity must allow it to be good, and will not easily prove it not to be the best. That charity is best, of which the consequences are most extensive: the relief of enemies has a tendency to unite mankind in fraternal affection; to soften the acrimony of adverse nations, and dispose them to peace and amity; in the mean time, it alleviates captivity, and takes away something from the miseries of war. The rage of war, however mitigated, will always fill the world with calamity and horrour; let it not, then, be unnecessarily extended; let animosity and hostility cease together; and no man be longer deemed an enemy, than while his sword is drawn against us.

The effects of these contributions may, perhaps, reach still further. Truth is best supported by virtue: we may hope, from those who feel, or who see, our charity, that they shall no longer detest, as heresy, that religion, which makes its professors the followers of him, who has commanded us to “do good to them that hate us.”